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I enjoy Corinne Day’s stories so much  I have been typing most of her part in ‘Imperfect Beauty. The making of contemporary fashion photograph’

‘I photographed Rose in my flat which had a very badly beer stained carpet from the parties that we’d had. I was broke, still on the dole. I never thought about the commercial aspect of photography. I was having too much of a good time.’

Corinne Day – Photographer

I left school at 16 with barely any education. All I wanted to do was travel but I had no money. I got a trainee job at a bank which made me laugh because my dad was a professional bank robber. By the time I was 18 I’d had a few jobs. I was seeing this boy, Murray, and he was flying all over the place as a courier. You know, like a glorified postman. So I got a job doing that and that’s how I got into modeling. I met a photographer on a plane, all my friends laughed and said I’d end up on page three of ‘The Sun’. But I followed it through and ended up traveling all over the world as a fashion model.

I met Mark, my boyfriend, on a train in Tokyo, Japan. Mark was really into film and  photography. He taught me how to use a camera. I started to photograph Mark and the friends we made while traveling. It was when we were in Milan that I started to take photographs that meant something to me. These photographs had an intimacy and a sadness about them. There we were struggling to pay the rent, living in a dump, surrounded by glamorous magazines that were so far away from our own level of living. A photographer friend of mine, Antony, saw some of the photographs I had taken and suggested that I go and see Phil Bicker at ‘The Face’ magazine. It was in 1989 when I returned to London. I showed Phil the snapshots of Mark on holiday in Thailand and the photographs I had taken of girlfriend lying around, bored and scruffy, in Milan. Phil asked what I thought I could bring to the magazine. I asked if there were any girl photographers working for ‘The Face’ and he said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Give me a job, then.’ I think he thought I was joking; I wasn’t.

Phil asked me to take some fashion photographs and to work with clothes stylist Malcolm Beckford, who was a regular contributor to ‘The Face’. I hadn’t lived in London for over five years. I hardly knew anyone to photograph. So I made appointments at model agencies to meet girls without experience. I wanted to meet somebody who would bring themselves to the camera. Storm model agency showed me an out-of-focus Polaroid of Kate Moss. I said I couldn’t tell if she would be right and could I meet her? Kate was 15 years old. She was small for a model…same height as me. And there was something familiar about her that made me feel comfortable. That’s why I chose to photograph her. The first pictures I took were of Kate in my Nan’s front garden. Nan had raised me from the age of five and this was the house I grew up in. Nan made us tea and sandwiches. We went to the park where I had hung out with my brother my whole life. The photographs were snapshots of nothing more than us hanging out in the suburbs where I grew up. The clothes Kate wore were simple: V-neck jumpers, Kickers from the Natural Shoe Store and a bias cut John Galliano maxi-skirt from Browns. I took black-and-white photographs because I had little experience with colour. I showed six different photographs to Phil, and he published one but not the photograph I liked. I liked the photograph of Kate walking down the side of the motorway. She was blinking and looked pissed off. I suggested to Phil that Kate should be seen in the magazine more as it looked like a ‘boy’s own’ magazine. A couple of months later, he commissioned me to photograph eight pages of fashion.

The same week, I was walking down Old Compton Street with a friend of mine and she was telling me of a stylist she knew called Melanie Ward who, like me, collected second-hand clothes. That day, we saw her on the same street, went for a coffee and talked about our common interest in second-hand clothes. I asked Melanie if she would like to work with Kate and me for ‘The Face’. When I moved to London, Melanie and I became close friends. We went to the markets, Portobello and Camden and others, every weekend. We shopped at second-hand clothing shops likes Glorious Clothing and Cornucopia. We worked very closely together. Both of us being on the dole, we shared the expense of buying clothes. I always bought clothes that I would wear myself. Music was our inspiration for the ‘Third Summer of Love’ photographs that I shot in 1990 for ‘The Face’. Kate and I liked Nirvana, The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. These photographs were about Kate. I wanted to capture her presence, not so much mine. And I liked the way that Kate was skinny. I was teased at school for being thin and clothes would never fit me when I was a model. In the eighties, you had to wear loads of make-up. I didn’t like the fake poses and phony faces. I thought fashion photography was about the photographer, instead of the person they photographed. Fashion magazines had been selling sex and glamour for far too long. I wanted to instill some reality into a world of fantasy.

I met Sarah Murray at a bus stop in the Kings Road. She had just quit modeling and was talking about getting her job back in the fish and chip shop. We became good friends and eventually worked for Vogue magazine together and Barney’s department store in New York. Sarah wasn’t like a typical looking model. It was hard for me to get advertisers and I were swimming at Tooting Bec Lido when this boy walked past. We argued who was going to ask for his number. George was a skinny 16 year old with long brown hair past his shoulders. We worked together for The Face in 1992. George was holding an electric guitar that he could not play. We are in a band together now, and he plays guitar. I met Rosemary Ferguson around the same time in McDonald’s. I thought Rose looked very androgynous. I found myself attracted to her in a way that I had never looked at a girl before. I photographed Rose in my flat which had a very badly beer-stained carpet from the parties we had. I was broke, still on the dole. I never thought about the commercial aspect of fashion photography. I wasn’t recording anything more than the way we were living. I photographed George in his own clothes where he lived. They were nothing more than snapshots with no hair, make-up or stylist. This is how I started to photograph and this is how I wanted to carry on.

In 1993, Melanie and I went our separate ways. She thought I took my work too personally. She was right, I did. Mel moved to America and never spoke to me again. My friendship with Kate also ended around the same time. I had taken some photographs of Kate for Vogue these photographs upset her model agency and a whole bunch of other people in the press in England and America. Kate never worked with me again after this. I thought the photographs were funny at the time, they certainly weren’t the kind of photographs normally seen in Vogue. I’d photographed Kate in her flat. I bought some underwear from an Ann Summer sex shop in Brewer Street, which is where I live. I also bought some American tan tights and got Liza Bruce to copy some t-shirts of mine so at least there were some designer credits in the magazine.

Charlotte Cotton. Imperfect Beauty. The making of contemporary fashion photograph. First published by V&A Publications, 2000. Page 78 – 85


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